NANP: A Process That Requires Aspirin
Posted by Abhinav Jain
The first guest in August for Names: A New Perspective is debut author M. L. Brennan, who had an urban fantasy novel (featuring vampires) called Generation V released earlier this year from Roc Books. I’ve only recently started getting into the monsters subgenre of urban fantasy and I haven’t been disappointed with it much. Books like Amanda Carlson’s Jessica McClain series and Lee Collins’ Cora Oglesby duology have been quite good and I’m hoping that Generation V does the same for me. I love vampire movies, and I’d really like to be able to say the same for books as well. While I get around to reading the book, here is Brennan on the topic of names within his book.
by M. L. Brennan
I’ll start by saying what everyone else has, because while it might be repetitive at this point, that doesn’t make it any less true – names are hard. Names are also very important. And there’s also a lot of pressure on the name of a main character, because this is a piece of information that will be front-and-center at every point in the process of selling the book.
That’s a lot of stress. So I’ll start with a few nuts and bolts elements that I use when naming characters, then move into a more specific anecdote:
It’s a good idea to make sure that your character don’t have similar names. Similar names can get confusing, and confusing is never a good place to start. I try to make sure that none of my primary characters have names that start with the same letter of the alphabet – so once I’ve chosen a name for a main character, that starts influencing my choices for the other characters. You also want names to have a visual variety to them – some names shorter, some names longer. This also helps the reader keep characters sorted during scenes where there are a lot of dialogue tags getting thrown around.
You’ll also want a name that you can type fairly easily, because you are going to be typing it very often. Avoid umlauts on a main character’s name. Type the name about fifteen times to make sure it’s comfortable – I find it obnoxious to hit the “x” key on my keyboard – I was taught on the home-key method, but I just don’t have to make that reach very often, so I always notice when I do. You probably won’t find any character names with “x” in them as a result.
Figuring out the perfect name for a character can be nightmarish – and, worse, it can stall you up. You might have your plot laid out, your world built, and everything ready to start going – but you haven’t found the right name for a character yet. Sometimes you might just have to put a filler name in there and start working – eventually you will see or hear something that you fall in love with and is the right one, but then you won’t have lost a lot of time in between.
My debut novel is an urban fantasy, set in our world of today (with a supernatural underpinning), but I had a set of three vampire siblings – one born during the American Revolution, one born during the American Civil War, and the final one (my main character) the baby at twenty-six. Initially I wanted all of them to have names that were popular in the time period that they’d been born in – a woman born during the Revolution, for example, would probably not be named Brittany.
I started with my main character – because of how I was picturing him, I had it in my mind that I wanted him to have a very everyman kind of name – nothing elaborate, nothing that would ring as even slightly different, a very chameleon kind of name. So I named him Pete. At the time I was very pleased with this, and thought that it would out well. Then I started working on naming his siblings – an immediately my balance started getting thrown off. The sister was born during the Revolution, and I immediately knew that I wanted to give her what I see as an almost stereotypically Revolutionary women’s name – Prudence. Well, that has the same first letter as Pete, and with a trio of siblings, it would be noticeable if two had the same letter and the third didn’t. I definitely didn’t want the visual headache of three ‘P’ names, and I liked Prudence so much that I ditched Pete. So now I had one sibling named, and two unnamed. Figuring that my main character would be the easiest to name (since he was contemporary), I started working on the Civil War-era brother, and ran into problems again – I was looking through lists of the names of generals and soldiers from the Civil War, but nothing I was looking at really jumped out at me. A lot of the male names from the Civil War (Joshua, Nathanial) don’t sound unusual to the modern ear, plus the ones that were very of-the-time I just didn’t really like. Since this was one going to be a primary character, I wanted to really love his name.
True to form, I rage-quit on the problem. I worked on other elements of the story and the world for a few days, but I was always turning the name problem over in my head. One thing I started considering was why I loved the sister’s name so much – Prudence. It’s a virtue, and a name that while we can all easily recognize and accept as a name, it’s one that has fallen very much out of favor. I started thinking also about how this name also described my character to some degree – she is very literally “prudent,” but in a bit of a negative connotation – she would rather play it safe and kill someone rather than risk that person potentially becoming a problem for this family in some future date.
This was my opening, because while all three siblings are born in very different eras, they all have the same parent, so the same mind is at work naming all of them. The idea that there would be a link, and a theme, suddenly made a lot of sense to me. I pulled up big lists of virtue names and started looking through them. I didn’t want ones that have retained some popularity (Faith, for example, or Hope), I wanted the ones that are recognizable yet have a ring of antiquity to the modern ear –Amity, Concord, Temperance – those were what fascinated me.
The moment I saw the name Fortitude I knew I had my main character’s name – it suited his story arc, I liked the way it looked on a page, and it also gave me an easy nickname option: Fort. The Civil War brother was the last one named, but not because I was having trouble anymore – just because I spent a bit of time deciding whether I wanted to name him Verity or Chivalry. I loved the look of Verity, but I liked all of the positive and negative implications of Chivalry. What I ultimately did was write the siblings’ names out and see which fit better into the list, and that’s how the middle brother became Chivalry.
With such interesting first names, I wanted the family surname to be very simple, one-syllable, and just reinforce the first name. The vampire mother was an English immigrant, so I flipped around through some lists of courtiers around her active periods – I ended up choosing Scott as the family name.
So that’s an example of how I moved from my own general guidelines of naming characters through the actual process!
The last and final guest for this edition of NANP is debut author Bryony Pearce and her post will go up this coming Monday on the 5th. You can check out the full schedule in the link up top.
Posted on August 2, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged Debut Authors Guest, Generation V, Guest Posts, Names, Names A New Perspective, Roc Books, The meaning of Names, Urban Fantasy, Vampires. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.